As the President of local charity Rally4Life I probably I reflect upon water issues more than most. Most of us fortunate enough to live in the Okanagan are able to take water for granted, whether we really should is another matter. However, ambling alongside Agnes in the African bush of the Samburu I discover a different reality. Every day, by necessity, she walks about 10 kilometers to fetch filthy water for her family. She will have to scrape away the monkey feces or even dig down into the gravel before she can fill her jerry can. It is an iconic sight to see her haul it up onto her head, an act of grace and elegance, her beautiful face serene and accepting of her fate. I was ashamed that I had never really considered her burden; 40lbs of disease ridden, fetid water, toiling daily along the dusty track. Precious time spent away from her family and endless labour intensive chores.
Was I was here as her saviour? I personally wrestled with all the arguments against such intervention that we hear in the “developed” nations. Was I being presumptuous to even consider that she wanted our help, our meddling, interfering in a culture so far removed from my comfort zone that I could hardly even comprehend her way of life? Was I creating a dependance on Aid? Was I being insensitive and demeaning?
I am so glad I didn’t just listen to the hypothetical, academic arguments. I went to investigate, to feel, touch and smell. To be grass roots and get down and dirty, and my life was irrevocably changed.
I discovered that alleviating hardship is subject to Newton’s third law: Every Action has an Equal and Opposite Reaction. Constructing a well for a community is relatively straightforward and affordable, yet life changing for the village. Wells fill more than jerry cans. They fill a need, giving back precious hours for education, for other work endeavors, a kick start for the economy with agricultural initiatives and micro businesses, and an immense improvement in health, particularly for the children. However, as Newton wisely predicted, the well unexpectedly filled a need for me. I learnt from a culture that values family time, honour, honesty and generosity. My eyes were opened to true joyful exuberance, unfettered gratitude and unforeseen friendship.
All the effort it had taken to get to this point in my life came pouring out in a torrent of tears. All the paperwork, all the legal documentation, all the stress of organizing fundraisers, the leap of faith to give up the security of a job, benefits, retirement plans. It all came flooding out in an embarrassing display of emotion. I was there to join the celebration, to represent all of our supporters, give a rousing speech, not a blubbering, sniffly soliloquy. Yet they understood and gave me grace to regain my composure. They lifted my spirits as they lifted their voices in praise and gave me the strength and purpose to carry on in my endeavours. I may still be naive but it didn’t feel as if we were belittling anyone. We were partnering and providing the initiative for these incredible, enduring people to be able to help themselves create a better life. In return I was given insight into what really matters. We need water, food, family, friendship, time and some peace, but do we really need credit cards, a triple car garage, the Hollywood diet and stress.
I am nobody’s saviour. For some unknown reason I just feel compelled to do what I can to bring some justice to this world. Regardless of corrupt, despotic governments and bloated, bureaucratic agencies nobody deserves to live in such desperate poverty. And thankfully I am not alone. This is not a sad story of hopeless despair. According to the UN Millennium Development Goals website between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, halving the proportion of people without access five years ahead of schedule. Yet there are still 783 million people to go, so we are not done yet….
Rally4Life will continue raising funds and awareness. Our Advocates will continue to compete, to excel, to strive to achieve pursuing their Adventure’s With Purpose. We have faith people will continue to support us and hopefully more and more people will be able to travel with us and experience an epiphany of their own. As for me, on returning from Africa I found I had brought back more than I took with me, and now I have even more to reflect upon.
President Rally4Life Foundation